See Sacramento schools where parents most often choose not to vaccinate their children

By Phillip Reese -

The number of Sacramento kindergartners opting out of vaccines has fallen for the second consecutive year, reversing a longstanding trend, new state figures show.

Under California law, children must be immunized against a variety of diseases, unless their parents claim a medical or “personal belief exemption.” About 1,425 kindergartners in the Sacramento region filed personal belief exemptions this school year, equivalent to roughly one in 22 kindergartners. Last school year, 1,560 kindergartners filed personal belief exemptions. In 2013-14, about 1,740 filed exemptions.

The decline in personal belief exemptions also occurred statewide. Across California, about 12,760 kindergartners filed personal belief exemptions this school year, while 915 filed medical exemptions.

“People are being better educated on the importance of vaccines and are therefore more willing to vaccinate their children,” said Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye.

Personal belief exemptions became a hot political issue following a measles outbreak at Disneyland in 2014. That came on the heels of statewide whooping cough outbreaks in 2010 and 2014. An unusually high number of whooping cough cases were reported in California again last year, though not as many as in 2010 and 2014, state figures show.

Lawmakers made it tougher to claim personal belief exemptions in 2014, requiring the signature of a doctor who acknowledges telling parents about the risks and benefits of vaccinations; alternatively, parents can state that visiting a doctor violates their religious beliefs.

A separate law passed last year will eliminate personal belief exemptions altogether, but it will not take full effect until July 1. Children whose families filed personal belief exemptions before Jan. 1 can file an affidavit that will allow the refusal of vaccinations until “the next grade span.” The grade spans are birth to preschool; kindergarten to sixth grade; and grades 7 to 12.

Even with the new law about to take effect, this year’s decline in personal belief exemptions “does still matter,” Kasirye said. “Continuing to educate the community on the importance of vaccines will help people make informed decisions when it comes to non-required vaccines such as the flu vaccine.”

About 4.6 percent of kindergartners in the Sacramento region filed personal belief exemptions. There were a few obvious clusters. Several Waldorf schools, charter schools that cater to the region’s Russian refugee population, and private religious schools had the highest rate of personal belief exemptions. Overall, parents in schools located in suburbs east of the Arden-Arcade community in Sacramento County were most likely to exempt their children from vaccination.

Sacramento-area parents file personal belief exemptions roughly twice as frequently as the statewide average.

Percentage of kindergartners at each school who filed personal belief exemptions

Source: California Department of Public Health | Updated 1/19/2016